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Listen to Monisha Bajaj’s episode:

Human Rights Education

Decolonizing Rights, Humanizing Education

by Monisha Bajaj
Professor of International and Multicultural Education,
The University of San Francisco

Education can be a force for social reproduction of an unequal status quo, or a site in which to imagine, practice and expand the conditions of individual and collective liberation. The framers of the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognized this dual potential of education in Article 26, which guaranteed not only access to education, but to an education that “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Defining the spirit in which education must take place has infused efforts for peace, human rights and social justice education worldwide over the past century as mass education has expanded across the globe.

Multiple FreshEd podcasts shed light on aspects of the intersections among education and human rights. Scholarship in the field of International and Comparative Education has explored education as a human right (educational access with goals such as the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals and those articulated by the UDHR and the UN Children’s Rights Conventions); education with human rights (the need for the basic dignity of children to be upheld at school through non-discrimination, equity, and quality education with well-trained teachers); and education for human rights (the need for curriculum to prepare learners and educators to critically analyze, engage, and act upon injustices in their social worlds).

The four FreshEd podcasts I recommend take these conversations on the interstices of education and human rights even further. Each of these episodes complicates and interrogates a particular dimension of global human rights and education. First, Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo in their FreshEd episode on indigenous women and research discuss what research means for communities long considered less than “human” and historically targeted for genocide. Drawing on frameworks of decoloniality and decolonizing methodologies, Sumida Huaman and Naranjo discuss how communities have pushed international human rights frameworks towards better understandings of land, environmental, and collective rights that reflect the realities of indigenous peoples. Second, Shane Enright in the episode on human rights, education unions and global advocacy, takes up “rights” more squarely by analyzing how trade unions have pressured nation-states to ensure that the rights of teachers as workers are protected. Third, Hakim Williams examines how forms of systemic, symbolic and institutional violence with roots in colonialism continue to infuse educational discourse and practice globally and locally in Trinidad. Williams notes how colonial legacies result in a present-day stratified educational system in Trinidad that fosters inequalities and allows for structural and interpersonal violence to permeate educational institutions. Fourth, Kailash Satyarthi, one of the founders of the Global Campaign for Education and Nobel Peace Laureate, discusses the direct actions he has led to free bonded child laborers, demanding through civic engagement that the promises of the UDHR and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child be fulfilled. Noting that a few decades ago, education was not even considered a right by many, Satyarthi shares that today, education (of the right sort) is a key component of justice, equality, peaceand liberation.

Taken together, these episodes offer an entry point into contemporary discussions of asymmetrical relations of power—whether rooted in historical legacies or present-day disparities—that frame the possibilities of education and activism towards the expansion of human rights for all.

April 1, 2021